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March 27, 2013

Pro-drilling group raises cash for lawsuit

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — Frustrated by the state’s delays in deciding whether to permit hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, a prominent landowner’s group has begun passing the hat to come up with the money to initiate legal action against the Cuomo administration.

Scott Kurkoski, an attorney for the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said in an interview with The Daily Star that the decision to move forward with a lawsuit against the state was prompted by the Cuomo administration shifting from being guided on the fracking issue from “science to politics.”

“They have taken away all of the economic value” of property owners whose tracts overlie potentially lucrative deposits of natural gas trapped under the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, the lawyer said.

He said he has already begun consulting with “national experts” on constitutional law in constructing the legal theory that would back the lawsuit.

But Debra Goldberg, a managing attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the pro-fracking landowners’ coalition is simply wasting its time by pursuing such a legal gambit.

“It’s a big PR (public relations) stunt,” said Goldberg, who has been aiding the town of Middlefield in its effort to defend its nearly 2-year-old home-rule ban against gas drilling and other heavy industry.

If and when such a lawsuit is filed, Goldberg added, “I expect it will be dismissed summarily.”

Kurkoski said landowners had expected the state to release hydrofracking regulations last September. He complained the state launched a new health review on fracking after the state Department of Health concluded there were no negative health impacts from the controversial drilling method.

While the New York review is still mired in lengthy delays, he said, Pennsylvania and Illinois both adopted regulations in relatively rapid fashion through “collaboration among landowner, environmental and industry groups.”

Six weeks ago, he noted, State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah declared his health review would be completed in “a few weeks.”

“We have been down this road before,” Kurkoski said. “We won’t make the same mistake again.”

He said the lawsuit will be commenced once the coalition collects enough money to support the action, which he acknowledged will be expensive. The cost of hiring expert witnesses alone, he said, is expected to top $100,000.

“We don’t make idle threats,” he said.